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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 14 June 2016

Agenda: Time for Reflection, One Minute’s Silence, Topical Question Time, Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2014, Colleges and Universities, Decision Time, Royal Bank of Scotland (Prestonpans Branch)


Contents


Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2014

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, on the greenhouse gas inventory 2014. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of her statement. I would appreciate it if all questions were as concise as possible, and possibly even the statement too.

14:30  

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

In 2009, this Parliament unanimously passed the Climate Change (Scotland) Act, establishing Scotland as a world leader in tackling one of the defining challenges of our time. The act set out an ambitious long-term target to reduce Scottish greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, relative to the 1990 baseline. It also contains an interim target for a 42 per cent reduction by 2020, and annual targets for each year.

The latest official statistics on Scottish greenhouse gas emissions, covering 2014, were published this morning. I would like to update Parliament on those figures and what they mean in terms of progress towards our existing targets, and also to set out our next steps in developing new and even more ambitious targets. These statistics show that Scotland is making outstanding progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Not only has the annual target for 2014 been met; we have exceeded the level of our interim 2020 target six years early.

For the purpose of target reporting, Scottish emissions in 2014 were down by 12.5 per cent from 2013 and down by 45.8 per cent from baseline levels. Over this period, reductions in emissions have been delivered in every sector, including energy supply; homes; transport; waste management; business and industry; and agriculture.

The new figures also show that Scotland has, yet again, outperformed the United Kingdom as a whole in reducing emissions. Comparisons with other western European EU 15 countries are not yet available for 2014 but, as of the previous year, only Sweden had delivered greater reductions.

The science of measuring and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions is complicated, but I can assure members that we have met our targets as the result of real progress in reducing actual Scottish emissions. As in previous years, today’s statistics reflect on-going improvements to the science of how emissions are accounted for. However, even without such revisions, both the annual 2014 and interim 2020 targets would still have been met.

The 2014 figures should also be seen in the context of Scotland’s strong, long-term progress, which has been acknowledged by a range of independent experts.

Lord Deben, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change, has said:

“Scotland is leading the UK in its ambitious approach … and is to be commended for doing so.”

Christiana Figueres, head of the United Nations climate body, has described our approach as “exemplary”.

Although emission statistics provide the big picture, what really matters is the range of real-world, everyday changes—large and small—that underpin our progress. I will provide some examples of the transformative changes that are occurring throughout Scotland.

On energy efficiency, the Scottish Government’s record investment is reflected in big improvements to Scotland’s housing. The share of homes that are rated energy performance certificate band C or above has increased by 71 per cent since 2010 and by 11 per cent in the past year. Our efforts are helping to reduce emissions and tackle fuel poverty by making homes warmer and more affordable to heat while supporting low-carbon jobs and regenerating communities.

On renewables, I join the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy in welcoming the announcement that construction of the £2.6 billion Beatrice offshore wind farm will commence later this year. Scotland’s early adoption of clean, green energy technology and infrastructure means that renewables are now Scotland’s biggest electricity generator. Projects such as the Beatrice offshore wind farm will also help to deliver a wide range of employment and community benefits.

The Scottish Government’s 2020 target for 500MW of local and community-owned renewable energy capacity has also been delivered, five years early. That has been independently estimated to be worth up to £2.2 billion to the Scottish economy over those projects’ lifetimes.

On transport, we are determined to free Scotland’s towns, cities and communities from damaging vehicle emissions by 2050, with significant progress by 2030. Adequate provision of refuelling infrastructure will be key. The chargeplace Scotland network now comprises more than 550 publicly available electric vehicle charge points, including more than 140 rapid chargers, which makes it one of Europe’s most comprehensive networks. That forms part of the Scottish Government’s annual investment of over £1 billion in public and sustainable transport.

Since 2008, more than 550 Scottish communities have been supported by the climate challenge fund to address climate change and make the move to low-carbon living. We are committed to retaining that fund and sharpening its focus.

Under this Government, Scotland has delivered significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through such initiatives and many other actions. Although I am delighted by that progress, I am in no way complacent regarding the scale of the challenge ahead. I am also excited by the scope of the opportunity before us.

This is an especially important time for climate change in light of the international agreement that was reached in Paris last December. That agreement represents the first time that all countries have joined in recognising the scale of the challenge and agreeing the route that we need to take. As the Scottish Government hoped and argued for, the Paris agreement has raised global ambition; it must now serve as a call to action for all Governments. Ours is no exception and we will heed that call.

The Government intends to raise still further our ambition on climate change and to continue to lead the world in the transition to a low-carbon economy. That is why the First Minister has already confirmed our plan to establish a new and more testing 2020 target. Our manifesto also included a commitment to improve the transparency and accountability of our targets by basing them directly on actual Scottish emissions. We are committed to setting emission reduction targets that are based on the best available evidence and expert independent advice.

I can advise members that I am writing to the Committee on Climate Change today to seek its advice on Scotland’s future targets in response to the Paris agreement. The ambitious new targets will serve as a statutory impetus to further action. Delivery will require co-ordinated approaches across portfolios and the reflection of climate change considerations at the very highest level of the Government. In that context, I can also announce that the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change has been reconstituted.

Just as we must work across Government on that vital issue, so we should engage across Parliament. I have already begun to meet party spokespeople, and I am keen to offer regular cross-party round-table meetings during this session to discuss progress and share ideas and information.

One of the Cabinet sub-committee’s first tasks will be to develop the Scottish Government’s next emissions reduction plan—the third report on proposals and policies. I intend to lay a draft of RPP3 before Parliament before the end of the year.

The Government understands that tackling climate change requires action from not only the public sector, but from businesses, charities and individuals. We will capture that through the participation process for RPP3.

Climate change is a global challenge, of course, and other countries must step up and match our ambition and action. In particular, recent UK Government policy reversals on renewable energy and energy efficiency stand in stark contrast to the scale of Scotland’s vision. The UK Government will also bring forward an emissions reduction plan this year. We need the UK to support Scotland’s drive to develop renewables and carbon capture and storage, not stymie it, as it has done over the past year. My Cabinet colleagues and I will take every opportunity through our engagement with UK ministers to make the case to reverse recent decisions.

The statistics that were published this morning are excellent news for Scotland and for everyone who lives here. They show that through the drive and determination of this Government and by the actions of people, communities, organisations and businesses all around the country, we have met the 2014 emissions reduction target and exceeded the 2020 target for a 42 per cent reduction six years ahead of schedule.

We set ourselves a high bar and we are showing by our deeds as well as our words that Scotland can indeed lead the world. Our progress provides a strong platform upon which to build but there is more to do and the advice that we receive from the Committee on Climate Change will inform our next steps, as will the deliberations of the Cabinet sub-committee.

This Government remains absolutely committed to tackling climate change and to delivering the bold actions that are needed to meet our targets. I hope that all members will welcome the progress shown in today’s statistics and support our next steps.

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for the advance copy of her statement. Although I welcome the fact that the targets have been met after four years of missed targets, I am dismayed that, overall, that is a result of accounting changes rather than of attributable actions by the Scottish Government. Stop Climate Chaos Scotland has said:

“It is hard to see a ... fingerprint of Scottish Government policy”.

For example, business and industry emissions have fallen by 39.6 per cent since 1990 but, crucially, most of that reduction was before the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 was passed. Would the Scottish Government be willing to go beyond a 50 per cent reduction by 2020, as we predict that that target will be met anyway, as well as—crucially and critically—setting sector-specific targets for waste, buildings and transport?

Roseanna Cunningham

Oh dear. We have just announced fantastic news for Scotland—great statistics on greenhouse gas emissions—and I would have hoped for a slightly more enthusiastic response from the Conservatives this afternoon.

The truth is that Opposition parties, including the Conservatives, have stood in this chamber lambasting the Government when it failed to meet the targets. Now we have met the targets, it seems to me that the Conservatives need to rise a little to that challenge. There is a challenge for the Conservatives because, as I indicated in my statement, significant things are holding us back that emanate from the Conservative Government in Westminster. I hope that the Conservatives in Scotland are able to bring some pressure to bear on their colleagues down south.

As for increasing the targets, I indicated that we are willing to do so. We have talked of a target of a more than 50 per cent reduction by 2020. However, I am sure that the member will not be surprised to hear that I want to take evidence on that; I want to have serious discussions about it; and I want to be able to set targets that are realistic and achievable. We will do that but we have a commitment to look at a more than 50 per cent reduction. We were the only party going into the last election that had any such commitment in its manifesto.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary for the advance copy of her statement and I welcome the announcement. The Government has indeed met its target and the 2020 target has also been met. It would help if the cabinet secretary could provide clarification in relation to the European Union emissions trading system boost that some non-governmental organisations have highlighted as contributing to meeting those targets.

On RPP3, the UK Committee on Climate Change has stressed that there will need to be a significant strengthening of policies. I hope that the cabinet secretary will agree with that, particularly with regard to the heavy emitters, and that she will agree that research is absolutely vital to ensure that challenged communities are not excluded and that the right transferable skills are developed, along with unions, businesses and the education sector, to bring about new jobs.

Roseanna Cunningham

Claudia Beamish raises important points about the engagement that will be required across the board in order to move us forward from where we are and so that there is recognition of the big gains from what we are doing, which will accrue to many of the sectors that she talked about.

Claudia Beamish asked about the factors that have allowed us to get to where we are this year. Basically, there are three main factors. One is that there was a reduction in emissions at source—the largest reductions were in energy supply and the residential sector. It is true that there is an adjustment to reflect Scotland’s share of the EU emissions trading system allowance. That adjustment is in line with legislation and is required for recording progress against targets. The method of calculation has remained exactly the same as it was in 2013, so we are not in any way moving away from what was used last year. The other thing is that the greenhouse gas inventory has been revised downwards in the latest year. However, despite that, previous upward revisions mean that the baseline level of emissions remains higher by 10 per cent than was the case previously. That means that the present fixed annual target is still tougher than was envisaged when it was set. Therefore, we are moving forward on all fronts. I hope that members will be able to acknowledge and endorse that movement.

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I welcome the announcement by the cabinet secretary that the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change is being reconstituted, as it is fair to say that we saw the benefits of that sub-committee in the previous session of Parliament. Can the cabinet secretary provide more detail on the sub-committee’s role and membership?

Roseanna Cunningham

As Scotland’s first dedicated Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, I will chair the sub-committee. Its membership will include the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution and the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, as well as the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, the Minister for Transport and the Islands and the Minister for Local Government and Housing. One of the sub-committee’s first tasks will be to develop the Scottish Government’s next emissions reduction plan, which will be the third report on proposals and policies. The sub-committee will meet in due course and will discuss its remit at its first meeting. I would be happy to outline the remit in an update to the Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee later this year.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

I, too, thank the cabinet secretary for providing an advance copy of her statement.

Given the poor performance of energy efficiency in contributing to meeting climate change targets, and notwithstanding the modest improvements, which we welcome, will the Scottish Government agree with the Scottish Conservatives that transformational action is still required, which means increasing the energy efficiency budget to 10 per cent of the capital budget, thereby creating a £1 billion investment by 2020?

Roseanna Cunningham

My colleague the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy has just whispered in my ear that it would be timely to remind members that, just a year or so ago, Westminster pulled the plug on the green deal. Discussions about energy efficiency are relevant and important, but let us not forget that much bigger context.

Energy efficiency is a priority for the Scottish Government and it has been designated as a national infrastructure priority in recognition of its importance. The cornerstone of our approach will be Scotland’s energy efficiency programme. In January, we announced that up to £14 million is available to support pilots to integrate actions on domestic and non-domestic energy efficiency, and we expect awards to be made this month. We are also giving early consideration to how we can use new powers over the warm homes discount and the energy company obligation, and we aim to consult on proposals later this year. The member might be interested in following that up when the consultation takes place. There is also the short-life fuel poverty strategic working group and the rural fuel poverty task force, which the member will be interested in. Those groups will report their recommendations by the end of this year, which will help us with programme development.

I hope that members will accept that, despite the difficult financial times, the Government is completely committed to driving forward that particular aspect of policy.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I express enormous gratitude to all who have contributed to the possibility that, when we meet the 2050 target of an 80 per cent reduction, I might be not 104 years old but 84 years old—I might survive for that long. However, it is clear that the UK Government’s policy change on renewables will have an impact on our ability to reach that target. Now or later, will the cabinet secretary give us a quantitative indication of how much more difficult the UK Government’s changing of renewables support makes meeting the target under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which I was greatly honoured to take through Parliament in 2008 and 2009?

Roseanna Cunningham

The UK Government has made a number of policy decisions that could have a serious impact on our climate change ambitions, which I have referred to. The renewables obligation for large-scale onshore wind and solar photovoltaics projects was closed early, and support for small-scale renewables projects through the feed-in tariffs was cut. Delays in and uncertainty about contracts for difference are also having an impact on investor confidence.

The UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change conducted an impact assessment of the early closure of the renewables obligation that estimated that the UK could lose a reduction in additional source emissions of up to 63 megatonnes. To put that in context, that is the equivalent of more than a year’s worth of Scotland’s entire emissions level.

In Scotland, we have made it clear that our ambition is to create a low-carbon energy future while keeping the lights on and keeping consumer bills low but, if we are to achieve those three aims in the absence of subsidies, we will need a mechanism to stabilise the market and ensure investment in our more cost-effective low-carbon technologies.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary is well aware that transport is still a major source of climate change emissions. There are two areas for improvement—through moving freight off the roads and on to rail and sea and through developing low-emission zones. Will she confirm that the freight facilities grant has been unspent in the past four years? What assessment has been made of the effect that low-emission zones would have on climate change emissions?

Roseanna Cunningham

I thank the member for his questions, which might have been more helpfully directed to the transport minister. The Scottish Government has increased investment in sustainable transport to support work on the modal shift to active and public transport, and to rail and water transport for freight. We are committed to that and to new technologies that will reduce vehicles’ emissions.

We are investing more than £1 billion a year in public and sustainable transport. Since 2012, £11 million has been spent on the electricity network to support electric vehicles—I have a constituent who is keen on that.

I do not think that any of us doubts that the transport part of the process is one of the most challenging. One reason for that is that transport is one of the hardest areas in which to change people’s behaviour.

I will endeavour to establish the detailed answer that I have no doubt that David Stewart was hoping for and I am sorry that I cannot give it this afternoon. I will have the transport minister write directly to the member.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I thank the cabinet secretary for the advance copy of her statement and for her commitment to reconvene the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change. I hope that there will be opportunities for Opposition spokespeople to engage with that sub-committee.

I welcome the figures that have been released today. It is clear that quirks in accounting and the impact of warm weather, wind farms and recycling have finally resulted in a met target after five years, but it is hard to see how Scottish Government policy has delivered much of the progress, and we still have much to do on transport and housing. Will the cabinet secretary commit today to a real-terms increase in climate change funding year on year for the parliamentary session and to scrapping the climate-wrecking policy to slash air passenger duty?

Roseanna Cunningham

The member raises a number of issues, not least the list of things that have contributed to the fact that we have now met our targets. The fact is that, eventually, when our target was met, there would be a list of things that had allowed us to do so, and it does not seem to me to be reasonable to discount the things that have been done simply because the target has now been met.

I note that the member referenced warm weather or mild winters. I remember some seriously cold winters that we have had, but I do not recall the Government getting any credit for where we had got to with the targets when we dealt with those winters. He cannot really have it both ways; all of these things contribute over the longer term, which is surely what this was all about and what we want to see.

Some very serious impacts on funding were brought about by changes made by the Westminster Government, some of which caused difficulty. Cuts to climate change budget lines have been made predominantly as a consequence of changes made by the UK Government in rolling back its green policies. As I have already indicated, the UK Government has slashed renewables support, and all of that has an impact on us, too. Without the UK hampering us in that way, we would have seen an overall £13.3 million increase in our budgets with regard to climate change.

The APD issue has, understandably, been raised by a number of people. We are showing global leadership by including both domestic and international aviation in our emissions reduction targets, but of course there are important environmental issues to consider. We are working with environmental groups, and we have consulted on the proposed scope and methodology of a strategic environmental assessment, which will be carried out later this year. When we have looked at all of that, we will take a balanced approach to the matter in recognition of the wider negative economic impacts that UK APD has on the Scottish economy.

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for notice of her statement.

Given that agriculture and land use account for 23.4 per cent of Scotland’s emissions, and given the slow progress of the biorefinery road map, will the Scottish Government commit to investing in biorefining as the best method of dealing with our biomass waste?

Roseanna Cunningham

I will look into the issue of biorefining, but I have to say that I always find Conservative calls for more spending interesting, as it is not the party’s usual position.

However, I am glad that Finlay Carson has referenced agriculture. We are making some progress with agriculture emissions, but it needs to be said that progress has been made across all the sectors. That is very important, because emissions from agriculture and related land use have fallen 25 per cent since 1990. We have done a number of things over the years, including investing a huge amount of money in the beef efficiency scheme, of which Finlay Carson is no doubt well aware and which will help thousands of herds become more efficient. We are also introducing other things.

From 1998 to 2014, net emissions from the agriculture and related land use sector have gradually declined. That decline is linked to the impact of historic changes in land use, changes to crop land and grassland, and a decline in cattle and sheep numbers, and we expect it to continue.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of her statement and warmly welcome the achievement of the targets that she has announced.

The cabinet secretary is of course right to point to the challenge now of sustaining and accelerating momentum. In that light and given her comments about the difficulty of changing behaviours with regard to transport, does she believe that Scottish Government policy or proposals to slash air passenger duty will help reduce transport emissions, which have reduced by only 2.8 per cent since 1990?

Roseanna Cunningham

I welcome the member’s welcome for the figures, but I am not entirely sure whether he is questioning me about the overall issue of APD or APD in respect of Scottish Government activities. I have responded to Mark Ruskell on the wider issue of APD. A balanced decision must be made here. We are making that decision with as much care as we can do.

An interesting truth is that the EU ETS adjustment process means that changes to APD do not necessarily make much difference when we count emissions in relation to our overall targets. There is an interesting interplay in how the stats are brought together, which is quite complicated, as I am discovering, but is nevertheless the case.

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

The very welcome figures that were released today indicate that changes in public behaviour are beginning to have a positive impact and to reduce carbon emissions, at least in some areas. How will the Scottish Government seek to ensure that behavioural change spreads to other areas, such as heat, transport and land use? Does the cabinet secretary agree with WWF Scotland that changing public behaviour in those areas must be at the heart of achieving further significant reductions in Scotland’s carbon emissions?

Roseanna Cunningham

Changing individual behaviour is key to unlocking quite a lot of this. We have seen quite a big drop in emissions from residential establishments, which we suspect is because people have heeded the advice to turn down their central heating. That gives people the benefit of lower fuel bills, and the cumulative effect across Scotland is an impact on overall emissions—that is an example of how behaviour change can be a win-win if it is approached in the right way.

The member is right to raise the issue more widely. Today’s figures provide us with a platform on which to build for the future. We will succeed in achieving our climate change ambitions only if we take the people of Scotland with us, so understanding and influencing how people act is key—Claudia Beamish referred to the issue in her question.

The breakdown of where reductions have been achieved shows where we might want to focus efforts to achieve further and faster change. How we encourage people to change how they act will be embedded in the development of our next emissions reduction plan.

The weather in 2014 helped to influence people’s behaviour, in that people used less energy at home, but we need to encourage people to continue to make changes and to keep the thermostat turned down.

The Presiding Officer

That brings us to the end of questions on the statement. I apologise to the three members whom I was not able to invite to speak. I am afraid that we are already 12 minutes behind schedule. I would encourage all members to keep questions short and ministers to keep their answers short, too.